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e-Leadership

Robert Burke  

Introduction

 

e-leadership is no different from any other form of effective leadership  except that in e-leadership you have no option but to be very good at it. It  requires a high level of transformational leadership because of the highly  participative nature of the e-world between e-organisations and e-customers and  the interconnectedness between leader and follower with the ever-increasing  reality of the blurred lines between the two.  

But in the e-world who is the leader?  

e-Leadership Effectiveness  

On a recent visit to Australia Professor Bruce Avolio, author of Full  Leadership Development  Building the Vital Forces in Organizations  (Sage: 1999) began his talk on e-Leadership with the following quote from David  Segal (1999) the author of Futurising Your Organization;   

"Ive found that 90% of problems companies have  on-line are created by management, not technology".  

The internet age has created the need for a new paradigm for skills formation  and for learning - that of learning to learn. In order to  integrate management and technology, learning to learn also implies learning to  un-learn past managerial theories and practices that are no longer appropriate  and may even be destructive to organisations. Many of these practices, evolving  from business principles created in the eighties and earlier, are still the  subject of most management schools. They are based on an era when organisations  were deciding what customers needed and business schools fostered this through  subjects such as Creating Customer Demand etc. IT has now changed  all that and the emerging trend is the change of emphasis from that of the  organisation calling the shots to now the customer calling the shots by  demanding what they want rather than what is offered.  

In Australia we are good at implementing and using technology but we still  suffer major shortcomings in IT development compared with the rest of the world.  This has become the major management and leadership challenge because of the  power customers have in interacting through IT and in fostering demand for goods  and services.  

At the basis of the change is the need for management to recognise that  organizations are in fact social systems and that the emergent technology  property of the system, the e-world, needs to be well integrated into the whole  organisational system itself. In essence this means that the major shift that  technology has created is that the customer, more than ever before, has become  the defacto leader in organizations because of the way the internet has  dramatically restructed many organisations by allowing an unparallel entrance to  it and to its decision making systems. In other words the customer has become  the system, the organisational macro-system, wherein the technology system and  the organisational social system have become the micro sub-systems.   

Leadership needs to recognise that the borderless, nationless force of the  internet creates global customers in a truly globalised market place the  interconnected world has created. The leadership challenge therefore is in  dealing with the human lag, or the social lag, to the technology spiral and the  consequences of this rather than the exponentially rapid expansion of technology  itself.  

This fundamental shift has really only began to accelerate at a speed never  before seen over the last two years. It requires asking new questions of  leadership such as:    

        What are the implications for your current leadership system?

         How do you integrate your leadership system and your technology  system?

        Is your leadership style an enabler or a constraint to technology?

        Will your leadership system and your technology system  co-evolve?  

What are the implications for your current leadership system?  

The e-world has allowed customers to help themselves as far as access to your  business and products are concerned. It is therefore necessary for you to let  your customers lead and to think of your customers as collaborators. Steve  Bollmer the CEO of Microsoft says "Whenever you feel lost, ask your  customers". Customers can interact instantly with your business by  letting you know what their requirements are, what method of acquisition of your  goods or services they require and what ownership and commitment do they want  from you to sustain an equitable and mutually rewarding relationship.  

How do you integrate your leadership system and your technology  system?  

More than ever this requires having a 360% relationship with your customer,  yourself and your team. Feedback and exposure have become critical success  factors in the e-age. Information itself is not the critical component. Indeed  it is estimated that by 2013 information will double every eleven hours   so what is its emergent property? The critical component is the unified support  you offer the customer for all your products and services. That is the emergent  property of information in the emerging knowledge era. So important is this role  that Professor Dale Spender AM believes that "The reality is, that we  dont currently have an education system that is organised to meet these  new needs. There is no system for upgrades-across the board-for those who are  the learner earners  the professionals we need for a knowledge  society" (2000).  

Every encounter with your customer becomes critical and, as a leader, you  must be able to take a comprehensive view of each of these encounters as the  speed of change in losing that customer is as quick as a click on a mouse.   

 Is your leadership style an enabler or a constraint to technology?  

Given that most CEOs and other senior mangers have been raised and  inculcated with the belief that success is dependent on competition and winner  takes all  how does this paradigm sit with the e-world? Simply put it  doesnt! Why? Because the e-world is a collaborative system. The  leadership style needed is one of total collaboration. One of being an enabler  of the human and technology sub-systems within the new customer  "owned" system itself.

 Dr Norman Chorns article "Creating Feminine Values in  Organisations" argues "that "feminine" values of  collaborative behaviour, exploratory decision-making and an open approach to  learning are more aligned to developing the integrated, cross functional  capabilities of the modern organisation" (www.centcorp.com.au).  This is particularly true of e-leadership because what customers are looking  for is a collaborative spirit, appropriate products and services and a loyalty  reversal system whereby the organisation must now show loyalty to the customer  rather than the other way around  the current paradigm.  

Will your leadership system and your technology system co-evolve?  

This very much depends on your leadership style. It requires a high level of  transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is gained from a  multiple of sources such as those you have acquired experientially, by  programmed learning (school, university, TAFE etc) and critically by your other  ways of knowing such as instincts, intuition, relationships etc.  

In the e-world as in every other world that requires an interface between  humans and between humans and technology the key to a successful outcome depends  on the level of transformational leadership that exists in the organisation. The  above model, adapted from Malcolm Davies of Learning At Work, shows the steps  that determine a successful organisational outcome. The key is a highly  developed transformational leadership style.    

Conclusion   

The good news is that transformational leadership can be taught and the  Futureware Corporation has developed specialist programs in transformational  leadership development in response to the increasing demands of  e-leadership.

 

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